LOS ANGELES – Frances Hashimoto, a Little Tokyo business and civic leader whose Los Angeles company popularized the Japanese-style treat known as mochi ice cream, has died. She was 69.
Hashimoto died of lung cancer on Sunday at her Pasadena home, her husband, Joel Friedman, said Wednesday.
"She was an angel on earth," he said. "She always gave and gave and gave to the Japanese community."
Hashimoto was born in a World War II internment camp in Poston, Ariz.
In 1970, she took over Mikawaya, a confectionary business operated by her family in downtown's Little Tokyo area since 1910.
Under her direction, the business expanded from a single shop into a $13 million-a-year business.
The company popularized mochi ice cream, an ice cream ball wrapped in a layer of rice cake. Some sources credit Hashimoto or her husband with inventing the treat and bringing it to market in the 1990s while others list a South Korean company as creating it a decade earlier.
Mikawaya's version is now sold in supermarkets throughout the U.S.
She also was a longtime civic leader and a member of several organizations that promoted business and Japanese cultural events in Little Tokyo.
In September, the City Council voted to name a plaza in her honor. Frances Hashimoto Plaza will be dedicated next week.
In addition to her husband, Hashimoto is survived by two sons and a sister.